CDC report indicates as S.C. COVID cases rose so did feelings of anxiety, depression

Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 9:02 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A recent report from the CDC shows South Carolinians experienced one of the biggest increases in anxiety and depression during the pandemic among all states and the District of Columbia.

The data comes from a biweekly, online survey administered by the U.S. Census Bureau to find out how the pandemic is affecting Americans.

The survey asked people how often they experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression, ranging from a score of 0, for not at all, to a 3, meaning nearly every day they had those symptoms.

What results show is that fluctuations in South Carolinians’ mental health have mirrored the state’s COVID trends.

In mid-August to mid-September of last year, cases were on a downswing after a summer spike, and the state’s mental health scores of 1.75 for anxiety and 1.44 for depression were lower than the national averages.

As cases surged last winter to their highest at that point in the pandemic, South Carolinians reported they were experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression more often, as scores rose to 2.23 for anxiety and 1.83 for depression, both of which were still below the national averages.

When cases decreased at the beginning of this past summer from mid-May to early June, so too did those mental health scores of 1.72 for anxiety to 1.50 to depression, both of which were around the national averages.

National scores also show these mental health scores mirroring pandemic waves.

But the report notes Mississippi, Oklahoma, and South Carolina had the largest percentage increases in anxiety scores from August last year to December, while Minnesota, Mississippi, and South Carolina had the largest increases in depression scores in that time.

“I think in our state, that was one of the things that made it a little more difficult was just the ongoing uncertainty — what’s going to happen, when is it going to happen, what am I supposed to do, and when is this finally going to end? We still don’t know a lot of the answers to a lot of those questions,” said Dr. Gregory Smith, the chief of psychiatry services at the South Carolina Department of Mental Health’s Aiken Barnwell Mental Health Center.

Smith also said this study does not include all the context around the rise and fall of these scores, explaining that at these times, there were other factors that could have contributed to feelings of anxiety, such as worries and confusion about jobs, schools, vaccines, and masks.

“I saw that clinically in my practice, with people coming in to the mental health center, that they were struggling with all these issues, and I can think even now, probably 70%, 80% of people I see come in, complaining of anxiety and inability to sleep,” he said.

“Mental health services and resources, including telehealth behavioral services, are critical during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the CDC report details as its main conclusion.

Dr. Smith said people should reach out for help if they need it, which could mean talking to family or friends or calling their doctor.

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health also operates 16 local centers across the state, where he said people can walk in and find out that same day what kind of help they can get.

“If it gets to where, over a week or two or three or four, that you really don’t have any pleasure in anything, you have trouble getting up out of the bed to go to work, you can’t take care of your kids, you can’t focus on your schoolwork, you need some help, and it’s OK to ask for that help,” Smith said.

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